Trends like sustainability and digitalization are going to dramatically change the chemicals and materials industry over the next 20 years, according to a report from Lux Research. Investing in technology innovations will be critical for companies to keep up.

The research identifies and ranks 12 key technologies that will reshape the world. The technologies are chosen based on innovation interest scores from the Lux Tech Signal, a composite measure assembled from a variety of innovation data sources, along with input from Lux's experts. In addition to highlighting the 12 key overall technologies, the report ranks the top five technologies for the chemicals and materials industry.

"The impacts of climate change and digital transformation will be substantial—as the chemicals industry is forced to adapt to the circular economy, waste plastic will become the most valuable feedstock," said Anthony Schiavo, senior analyst at Lux Research. "This will create a more decentralized industry that relies increasingly on economies of multiples. At the same time, digital sales platforms will commoditize customization, eroding the difference between specialty and commodity businesses."

The top five technologies chemicals and materials leaders should look to in 2021 are:

  • Plastic waste recycling—As concerns about plastic waste rise, billions of dollars are at risk. Advanced recycling tech is necessary to tackle this issue and creates opportunities for higher-value products.
  • Materials informatics—Applying machine learning to materials development can not only improve R&D cost and efficiency but also help enable new business models and greater agility.
  • Digital sales platforms—Ecommerce and sales automation are coming to chemicals, along with services around customization and product use.
  • 3D Printing—3D printing provides material firms unique growth opportunities, but firms need to be prepared to move down the value chain to capture their share of profits.
  • Synthetic biology—Synbio can boost sustainability claims but also enable more flexible, distributed production of chemicals and, in the right cases, can enable new markets and lower costs.

"Each year, when we are preparing our annual report, our clients ask us, 'Which of these are most important for my industry?'" says Schiavo. "The most critical tech innovations are not the same for every sector. Some technologies that did not make the top of our overall list may be transformational for specific industries. That's why we've expanded this year's report to cover these additional technologies."

For more details about the report, visit